The Whiteness of May

One of the great sights of May and June is blossoming Whitethorn or Hawthorn (1) (Crataegus monogyna) or Sceach gheal in Irish with swathes of its frothy whiteness sweeping across the countryside on hedgerows or punctuating green fields with mounds of loveliness. 

Because it is synonymous with May it was often called the May tree and a May bush was a hawthorn branch stuck in the ground on May eve and decorated with ribbons and eggshells to bring good luck. 

The Whiteness of May 1 1e Hawthorn blossom 1
Whitethorn or Hawthorn (1)

Another blossoming tree in May is the Crab apple (2) (Malus sylvestris) or Crann fia-úll in Irish. The pinkish white, sweet scented, five petalled flowers are attractive to bees because of their plentiful supplies of pollen and nectar.

The Whiteness of May 2 2e Crab apple blossom 2
Crab apple (2)

In contrast the Holly (Ilex aquifolium) or Cuileann in Irish produces white, four petalled flowers.  The female holly bush produces red berries if the flowers are pollinated by a male holly bush.  At this time of year, the genders can be differentiated by examining the flowers closely.  If there is a green oval shaped structure in the centre of the flower it is a female; if four stamens with yellow tips (anthers) protrude from the centre it is a male.(3a, 3b, 3c) The female Holly blue butterfly which can be seen flying around in May lays her eggs at the base of the buds of the female holly and the caterpillars eat the buds, flowers, and emerging berries.  In autumn she lays her eggs on ivy flowers.

The Whiteness of May 3 3ae Female flowers 3a
Holly (3a)
The Whiteness of May 4 3be Male flowers 3b
Holly (3b)
The Whiteness of May 5 3ce Emerging berries 3c
Holly (3c)

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